If Friday night’s preseason game was a dress rehearsal for the Eagles’ season opener at Cleveland, the Eagles should be fairly happy.
The Eagles forced early turnovers and took advantage of them en route to a 27-10 victory over the Browns in a preseason game at Cleveland.
This dress rehearsal was held without starting quarterback Michael Vick, who didn’t make the trip due to his bruised ribs. But understudy Nick Foles continued to look impressive. So did veteran quarterback Trent Edwards, who continues to make the case that he should be on the Eagles’ opening day roster.
The roster must be reduced from 90 players to 75 on Monday. Even if players don’t stick with the Eagles, strong performances during the preseason, which concludes next Thursday against the New York Jets, could help players catch on with another team.
Edwards is one of the players who certainly caught the eye of other teams Friday night. He completed 14 of 17 passes for 127 yards and touchdown during the second half. Linebacker Keenan Clayton improved his chances of making the team by blocking a punt during the first quarter, setting up the Eagles’ second touchdown. Receiver Damaris Johnson also made an impact on special teams with a 14.5 punt-return average, which nicely complemented his two receptions, including one for 45 yards.
The big stories for the starters were Foles and the defense’s ability to produce turnovers. Foles finished 12 of 19 for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But, thanks to the defense and special teams, Foles only had to drive the Eagles a total of 18 yards for their two first-half touchdowns.
The Browns drove right down the field on their first possession. The drive featured wide-open receivers underneath the coverage, bad penalties and the usual assortment of problems that have plagued the Eagles defense the past 12 months. An offside penalty on linebacker Brian Rolle on third-and-2 gave the Browns a first down at the 2-yard line.
A fortuitous holding penalty pushed the Browns back to the 12. On the next play, defensive tackle Derek Landri barreled up the middle and knocked the ball out of quarterback Brandon Weeden’s hands. Trent Cole recovered.
But Foles gave the ball right back to the Browns. After a screen pass to LeSean McCoy produced a first down, Foles made an ill-advised deep throw, resulting in an interception by Joe Haden.
Two possessions later, a big hit by linebacker Ryan Rau dislodged the ball, and Darryl Tapp pounced on it at the 15-yard line. Three plays later, Foles displayed the poise that has made him one of, if not the most pleasant surprises during training camp. When his primary option was covered, Foles patiently waited, biding his time until finding tight end Brent Celek wide open at the 4. Celek did the rest, bulling his way into the end zone to put the Eagles ahead, 7-0.
Tapp made another big play on the Browns’ next possession, further distinguishing himself among the Eagles’ numerous talented defensive tackles and ends. Tapp beat all-pro tackle Joe Thomas and caused another fumble, only this time the Browns recovered. But Clayton blocked the ensuing punt, giving the Eagles possession at the 3. Two plays later, Foles connected with Dion Lewis for a 2-yard touchdown pass, extending the Eagles’ lead to 14-0.
Foles almost had a third touchdown pass. He made a gorgeous pass to Johnson on the left side of the end zone while he was closely covered by former Eagle Sheldon Brown, but the touchdown was nullified by replays that showed Johnson failed to get two feet inbounds.
The Eagles’ final touchdown was scored by Brett Brackett in the third quarter. Brackett, a former Penn State receiver, is battling to be the third tight end, behind Celek and Clay Harbor. He made a strong case Friday, catching two passes from Edwards. He actually caught three passes, but a 25-yarder down to the 6 was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty. But Edwards came back to Brackett on the next play for a 20-yard pass. He scored on a 4-yard pass that featured Brackett stretching out his entire 6-foot-5 frame to place the ball on the goal line.
Will that be enough to help Brackett survive Monday’s cuts? Will Edwards also stick around? Has Foles wrested the backup quarterback role from Mike Kafka? How many defensive linemen will the Eagles keep?
Those are all questions that will probably be answered during the next 7-10 days.